Bills gear up for MNF

Buffalo and Cleveland met in a critical late-season game last year. This time it's just as important as the Bills are in desperate need of a win to get back on track.

Having lost four of their last five games to drop from first to worst in the AFC East, the Bills are feeling a sense of desperation. At 0-3 in the division and 5-4 overall, their margin for error in a tight playoff picture has all but disappeared.

But even this dire situation can't squelch the excitement the team's coaching staff and players are feeling heading into Monday night's game against Cleveland (3-6) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Call it the power of Monday Night Football.

Yes, Buffalo isn't the golden child everybody thought when the team started 4-0. But the town and the stadium will still be rocking as the Bills host their Lake Erie neighbor.

"It's really an exciting week, obviously, to be back on Monday Night Football," coach Dick Jauron said. "The squad's excited about it, the community's excited about it. We just have to get ourselves ready and play our best game and hopefully, that's what we'll do."

The Bills appeared on MNF for the first time since 2000 and hosted a MNF game for the first time since 1994 when they faced the Dallas Cowboys last season. Dallas rallied for a 25-24 win on Oct. 8, kicking the winning field goal as time expired.

As if the memory of that game wasn't enough extra motivation for Buffalo, the Browns lining up across the field will ignite another one from a year ago. In December, with both clubs fighting for a playoff berth, the Bills lost at Cleveland 8-0 on Dec. 16, a weird and wild game played in a blizzard and 16-degree wind chill.

"I know I definitely thought about that this week," Bills center Duke Preston said of that Browns game. "We were out there with a chance to keep our playoff hopes alive and that pretty much ended it for us. Right now, where we are at, we kind of owe them one and Monday night would be a perfect time to get that done."

For defensive tackle Kyle Williams, he's still thinking about the Dallas loss.

"It was an unbelievable experience," he said. "Our fans were incredible. We played really well for 59 minutes, but that is the way it goes. You have to finish the game. We are excited and looking forward to it again, getting an opportunity to go out there and right the ship."

Adding to the buzz on Wednesday was strong safety Donte Whitner's surprise return to the practice field after separating his shoulder just 10 days ago against the New York Jets. He worked on a limited basis, raising the possibility he might play Monday.

It's a good guess that Whitner is willing himself back; he's a Cleveland native eager to play on the national stage against his hometown Browns.

"I'm sure it was a factor, but with Donte, you almost have to hold him back all of the time," Jauron said. "He hates to miss practice so it drives him crazy not to play in a game."

Offensive guard Brad Butler, who has missed two games with a knee injury, also returned to practice.

Butler's return was good news for struggling quarterback Trent Edwards, who will square off with Browns new starter Brady Quinn, his 2007 draft class peer.

Quinn has been patiently waiting his turn to play and got it last week against Denver when he replaced Derek Anderson and threw for 239 yards with two touchdowns and a 104.3 rating. But the Browns lost 34-30 after Jay Cutler rallied the Broncos with three TDs in the final 15 minutes.

Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said he's too concerned about his wilting defense to spend too much time worrying about Quinn.

"My focus has really been on the Buffalo Bills more so than Brady Quinn and how we can get better and how we can finish drives and how we can execute the little details so we can become a better defensive football team," Fewell said. "And if we do that, then we will take care of Brady."

Edwards, who has seven turnovers during Buffalo's three-game losing streak, said the hoopla of Monday night would provide a needed shot in the arm for the team and maybe his arm in particular.

"I hope that guys are going to be ready to play," he said. "I know I am and I know all of our fans are going to be ready to go. We need to be able to put on a show and I think the fact that it's a nationally televised game, I think that we're going to be able to be ready and mentally be ready to go because it's such a big stage."

Having played each other a year ago, the Bills and Browns have some familiarity that can be useful. As for the game tape of that 8-0 slopfest, well, that's debatable.

"I'm going to be honest, I have never even watched that tape. The filming, the footage of the film, you can't even see what's going on and you can't even tell where everything is," Edwards said.

In that case, we'll go to the stat sheet. Edwards and Anderson were a combined 22 of 57 passing. The difference was the Browns making a few critically important plays and running back Jamal Lewis rambling for 163 yards on 33 carries.

While he acknowledges that his team is in a "slump," a pretty enlightening statement for someone as bland and guarded as Jauron, he said he's looking forward and not back, knowing there are still seven games to play and much can happen.

"We've got to take what we have and we've got to throw ourselves into this thing and do everything we can to focus on this game," Jauron said. "That's been our approach to every game all year. The fact that we're on a national stage, you would hope that it wouldn't motivate anybody any more or any less because every week in this league, you are fighting for your life. (But) everybody knows Monday Night Football. Everybody knows all of their friends and family across the country, they're all going to be watching on Monday night, so we will get them up a little more because they get up for games. Our opponent will be too. It should be a lot of fun."

SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Browns lead 8-5 including a 3-2 record in Buffalo. The teams have met once before on Monday night. On Oct. 2, 1995, the Bills won at Cleveland, 22-19. QB Jim Kelly completed 27 of 34 for 256 yards and two touchdowns and K Steve Christie converted the winning field goal with five seconds remaining in the game.


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